2009 Suzuki Gran Vitara front view
 2009 Suzuki Gran Vitara front view
 2009 Suzuki Gran Vitara interior
 2009 Suzuki Gran Vitara off roading
 2009 Suzuki Gran Vitara rear shot

Suzuki hasn't always had the best of luck in introducing products to the U.S. market. But with the 2009 version of its Grand Vitara SUV, the Japanese company shows that it deserves better than the also-ran status it generally is afforded here in the states.

The Grand Vitara is small, but has true SUV capabilities, meaning it can go off road better than some of its compact rivals. With its unit-body-on-frame construction, the Grand Vitara delivers a pretty solid and smooth ride. But Grand Vitara drivers will also benefit from its new fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine.

So if you have enjoyed your large SUV, and don't want to forfeit all of its characteristics, but need to cut the amount you're spending at the pump, Suzuki has a nice solution. There is still a V-6 available, however, if you prefer the extra power.

The 2.4-liter four cylinder makes 166 horsepower, while the 3.2-liter V-6 comes with 230 ponies. Our tester had the four banger, and we found it to be quite capable of delivering the necessary power that you want and need for proper merging or passing on the highway.

That engine was mated to a four-speed automatic transmission, but a five-speed manual gearbox is also offered. The tester also was a front-wheel-drive model, but four-wheel drive is available. Fuel economy on the tester is rated at 19 mpg city, 25 highway by EPA, and if you bump up to the six-cylinder with four-wheel drive, you still get EPA numbers of 17 and 23 - not too shabby.

After having tested a Grand Vitara about four years ago, we were surprised to find how quiet the current version is. We remembered lots of road and engine noise from that previous model, but couldn't detect much in this one at all. Also, the ride in this model seemed sturdier. The Grand Vitara is a relatively tall vehicle, and in the previous test it seemed as though it would be especially prone to rollover. Not so in this model, which seems to be much more connected to the road.

Its interior is not luxurious, but is pleasantly designed and not unattractive. The front seats are firm and comfortable, and the back seat had plenty of leg and headroom and the ability to recline. The Grand Vitara's spare tire is mounted on the rear door, which saves interior space. That rear door opens easily from the left.

The interior space is impressive, offering 24 cubic feet for cargo and 99 cubic feet for humans. After looking at the Grand Vitara's list of standard features on the Xsport trim level, you see what a terrific value this SUV presents. Standard stuff includes sunroof, heated and powered outside mirrors, leather-covered steering wheel, remote locking, cruise control, six-disc CD changer with MP3 capability and roof rails.

Oh, sorry, if you want the backup camera, you will have to pay extra for that. Now let's hope that, for Suzuki's sake, the company finds a way to connect with the American consumer. We recently test drove the SX4, which comes as a small wagon or sedan, and were impressed by it.

The company still offers its XL7, which is a larger SUV that has three rows of seating, and recently unveiled its Equator truck, which is built by Nissan. I would guess that perhaps the brand's best hope for gaining traction in this market would be to push its value proposition. All of its models seem to be reasonably priced.

For instance, the Grand Vitara, at its base model, starts at around $19,250. The Xsport model we drove stickered at $22,613, and the model with four-wheel drive starts at around $24,150. So, maybe it is time for Suzuki, which has for years gotten acclaim for its two-wheel transportation, to shine in the four-wheel category as well.

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